ISLAMABAD — Afghanistan has started shipping goods to India for the first time through a newly developed Iranian seaport in a bid to improve exports and reduce reliance on routes through its uneasy neighbor, Pakistan.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani traveled Sunday to the western border city of Zaranj to see off the inaugural convoy of 23 trucks loaded with 570 tons of cargo to the Chabahar port in neighboring Iran. The consignment is destined for the Indian port city of Mumbai.
For decades, landlocked Afghanistan has mostly relied on Pakistani land and seaports for international trade. But mutual tensions have in recent years significantly reduced Afghan trade and transit activities through Pakistan.
Addressing the nationally televised ceremony, Ghani credited a “healthy cooperation between India, Iran and Afghanistan” for achieving the milestone. He said the new export route will help improve economic growth in his war-shattered country, saying “Afghanistan is not landlocked anymore.”
New Delhi has financed and developed Iran’s Chabahar Port to enable Kabul get direct and easy sea trade access.
India took operational control of a portion of the Iranian port late last year for 18 months and plans to send cargo ships from its ports of Mumbai, Kandla and Mundra every two weeks, according Indian media reports.
The United States last year waived certain anti-Iran sanctions to allow development of Chabahar to support efforts aimed at stabilizing Afghanistan. The waiver has enable India, Iran and Afghanistan to continue their work to establish a new transit and transport corridor linking the three countries to help improve Afghan economy and allow the war-ravaged country to import food and medicines.
India successfully shipped 1.1 million tons of wheat to Afghanistan through Chabahar Port in 2017. That year, New Delhi also launched an air corridor with Kabul for bilateral trade.
Indian ambassador to Afghanistan, Vinay Kumar, while addressing Sunday’s ceremony in Zaranj said the air corridor has since helped increased Afghan exports to his country by 40 percent.
China also opened an air corridor with Afghanistan in November and has since imported thousands of tons of Afghan pine nuts, bringing much-need foreign exchange to Kabul. Afghanistan is the largest producer of pine nuts in the world, with an annual output of about 23,000 tons. The increase in exports to China has led to an unusual rise in in prices of pine nuts in Afghanistan, say local traders and consumers.
Pakistan allows Afghanistan to use its seaports for international trade under a bilateral trade and transit agreement. It also allows use of overland routes for Afghan exports to India. However, Islamabad wants improvement in ties with New Delhi before it will allow Indian exports via the same routes back to Afghanistan.